They say a moment’s decision can have lifelong consequences. For Lake Highlands resident Andy Anderson, that decision came when he decided to help out his local PTA in the early ’50s.

Anderson was a young man in his 20s, raising a family in Mesquite. His wife was in charge of the preschool PTA’s annual Christmas party, and she realized she had a problem. She had the decorations, music and food ready. She even had a Santa suit. She just didn’t have a Santa.

As the party loomed and no Santa was found. Anderson said he’d do it. A slender, 5-foot 9-inch fellow, the suit was so large they stuffed it with two standard-size pillows to fill it out. And Anderson, blessed with a natural gift of gab, seemed to have a knack for the job.

At the time, Anderson had no idea it would be the start of a 50-year tradition. He knew he had fun, and the kids did, too. So he just kept doing it. After a few years, Anderson bought his own suit and made it a seasonal career.

Fifty years later, much about Anderson’s life has changed. He has retired from his sales career, and he’s a cancer survivor and a heart patient. His four kids are long since grown. But one thing hasn’t changed: Each fall, he pulls out his two Santa suits, dusts them off and begins booking holiday parties and events.

“I’m 75 and shooting for 100,” he says. “And I still like to stay active.”

Besides, there’s a perk to being an older Santa: the beard and hair are now authentic.

“For years, I wore fake hair and beard. It was high quality and looked real. But now it is real.”

Over the years, Anderson has worked at grocery stores, shopping malls and Christmas parties throughout the Dallas area. One of his favorite events was back in the early ’80s, when the Dallas series was popular. Anderson was hired on a handshake to play Santa at SouthFork Ranch for three weeks.

Dallas was in its heyday then, with J.R. and the whole thing. Thousands of people came. On the first night, they brought me in on a helicopter, so everyone could see me arrive. Then one morning, they sat me at one end of a large building and brought school groups in to see me. There must have been 1,500 kids there waiting to talk to Santa Claus.”

But while Anderson has worked at some big events and impressive places, he says the best part of being Santa is the kids.

“Some of them are just so cute,” he says, “you can really get caught up with them in just a few minutes. They look up at you with such wide eyes, because they think you’re the real McCoy. They’re really getting to talk to Santa Claus.”

And talk and talk and talk, in some cases.

“Some kids talk from the minute they crawl up on your lap,” he says. “I mean, they run at the mouth non-stop. They just can’t tell you enough. Others you have to pull it out of them, to get them to say anything. That’s when you really have to build a rapport and know how to talk to them.”

In 50 years, Anderson has heard just about every request. In more recent years, though, he has had to work at knowing just what it is the kids are asking for.

“Today, so many of the toys are high-tech,” he says. “I try to stay up on that. I read ads for toys, watch commercials and things. But some of them, I still have no earthly idea what they’re talking about.”

Not to worry, though. Anderson has developed a successful way of dealing with the problem.

“I just pass that off on Mrs. Claus,” he says. “I say she’s in charge of the elves who make the toys, because I’m so busy talking to the kids and getting ready for my trip. So even though I’m not completely familiar with it, she’ll know all about it. I just tell them I’ll talk to her about it.”

Now that he has marked his 50-year anniversary as a Santa, does Anderson ever consider putting the suit away for good?

“Well, you keep thinking, this will be my last year. But I still enjoy it. The kids are really precious. So as long as my health holds up, I’ll keep doing it.”